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You wouldn't know it from walking around the quiet streets of suburban Ra'anana, but there is a surprising amount of creative talent hidden behind those undistinguished doors. Last weekend, some of those doors opened and the city's artists welcomed the public into their homes. The initiative was part of the municipality's Artists' Open House project, now in its second year.
Local residents wandered freely through the homes of 46 artists working in almost every field of art and from almost every sector of society. Their works on display were varied, but one thing the artists all had in common was that they greeted their visitors with smiling conversations and friendly offers of cool drinks. And the visitors ambled happily about, looking, touching, asking questions, making comments, and sometimes buying.
The Jerusalem Post spoke with some of the artists involved in the project.
The curves of the female body are everywhere in Nava Sidon's studio, set underground in what is supposed to be a public bomb shelter. Small paintings of naked women dot the walls, while larger nude paintings stand on the floor. Several sculpted female torsos made of some unusual substance on one wall immediately grab the eye.
Yet Sidon, 48, comes from a religious home and describes herself as traditional.
"I guess this doesn't really seem to fit in with my background," she says, looking around with a wry smile, "but we all express ourselves in different ways. These works may look erotic, but they really are very spiritual."
Sidon, married with four grown children, was born and raised in Tel Aviv and moved to Ra'anana as a young mother more than 20 years ago. Art always fascinated her, and after completing high school she went on to study at Bat Yam's Arts Institute and then at Tel Aviv's Talpiot Seminar. She worked as an art teacher for some years, and for the past 13 years has worked at Ra'anana's Arts Center, teaching visiting school groups about art and artists.
About eight years ago, she visited the famous artists' village in Ein Hod and began to learn about creating paper from natural materials. The idea gripped her, and Sidon is now a self-described paper artist, using fibers from plants such as banana, strawberry and palm trees to create papyrus-like sheets which she then paints or prints, or uses to sculpt her female torsos, building the shapes layer by layer.
Sidon says she does all the preparation herself, picking the leaves and branches, stripping them, boiling and softening them, and finally shaping the pulp.
"The work is very demanding and very spiritual," she says. "When I create these bodies, I look very deeply internally and peel back the layers to see true female power."
Sidon says she has been on a spiritual journey for the past two years. Initially, she began by sculpting feet, which were featured in a 2004 exhibition in Ra'anana entitled "Lech Lecha" (go forth). Soon she moved upwards, to the torso. Very recently, she has been drawn to shaping heads and mouths.
"I think the time has come for me to start to express things, to communicate, to focus on thoughts. That's why I'm now starting to create heads and mouths," she says. Some of her works will be on display at Ra'anana's Ahuzat Bayit retirement home next month.
Claudia Epstein has been in Israel for just a few years, and the immigrant experience shapes her art in a multitude of ways. This modernist painter delights in painting formalized landscapes seen from above and laden with symbolic elements that signify journeys.
"As an immigrant, you have to go from station to station before you really settle into society," she says. "So my paintings all have roads and rivers that lead from place to place, and on the way you have stations to stop at. I got the idea for the stations from the big sun shades you see here [in Israel] over playgrounds - I liked the idea of the security these shelters provide."
Epstein, 36, moved to Israel from Argentina three years ago with her physician husband, Gabi, and their two young children. They spent seven months in Ra'anana's absorption center before moving to a rented apartment near the city center. In her native country, Epstein had been an art teacher at university level; here she works part time at the Ra'anana Arts Center.
She is immensely proud of her three exhibitions during her short time in Israel, the most recent just a few months ago at the Jerusalem Theater. Entitled "Expectations," the exhibition showed seven of her paintings, designed as a series to flow from one to the other. Each painting is designed and named after one of the seven blessings traditional in a Jewish home - happiness, health, fertility, and so on.
"We come from a Zionist Jewish background, and I loved the idea of these blessings accompanying us from the beginning of our journey," she says. "I very much look at the artist as a conscience who reflects society, and in my work I try to portray that graphically."
Her next exhibition will bring Epstein full circle - this summer, she is retur
ning to Argentina to show her works there.
Combining pottery with weaving might sound like a mismatch, but Revital Davidson is mastering both. At 25 - and looking more like 15 - Davidson is one of just 13 pottery students worldwide who have earned a place at a prestigious two-month course in Japan this coming summer. A student at Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Davidson is delighted at the honor.
"It's very exciting to win this - I didn't think I had a chance," she says.
Davidson grew up in Ra'anana. She says that while she was always interested in art, she had not tried her hand at pottery until she was 21. It was then that she happened across a ceramics exhibition in Ra'anana with a creative corner where children were allowed to try using a pottery wheel.
"That was it - I just fell in love with it. I can't explain it. I canceled all my other plans and immediately decided to study pottery at the Tel Hai Arts Center," she says. So Davidson studied pottery there for three years and learned how to combine it with weaving.
"I love combining them," she says, explaining how after creating a bowl or jar, she delicately punches holes around the rim and weaves rope or string in and around the creation. Last year, she decided to continue her studies at the Bezalel Academy and now rents an apartment near Jerusalem; but for the Artists' Open House weekend, she had her wares on display in her parents' Ra'anana living room. As well as her woven bowls, exhibits included many traditional finely decorated ceramic pieces - jugs, bottles, plates and platters, salt and pepper sets and toothpick holders.
"I'm very happy to see people's reactions," she says shyly. "It's nice to hear that people who aren't friends or family like my work."
Before she travels to Japan, Davidson has another feather to add to her cap - her works will be on display at Tel Aviv University from June 30.
At 57, painter Avi Hatam is almost the same age as Israel, and the story of his birth is almost as intriguing as the country's.
"My parents came from Bulgaria to Palestine, but the British wouldn't let the ship in and they had to go back to Cyprus," he says. "They spent about a year there in a refugee camp in terrible conditions, and that's where I was born. When I was a few months old, after the War of Independence, my parents brought me to Israel."
The family lived in various towns before finally settling in Ra'anana. Young Hatam drew and painted as he grew up and went on to become a graphic designer. He married Susana Ban, a portraitist and the daughter of well-known Hungarian painter Bela Ban. The couple has three adult children.
Hatam's paintings are often abstract and frequently impressionistic - he seems to have borrowed his style from artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Yet his colors are stronger and brighter than those of his predecessors; the intense light in Israel has clearly made an impression on him.
Hatam's next exhibition will be at Ra'anana's Open University next month.
"The professor who came to choose the works for this coming exhibition liked them all," he says. "But he couldn't take them all, of course, so he chose the ones that really express something artistically in their use of color or style," says Hatam.
By contrast, Boris Rosenthal is a realist painter whose favorite subject is wildlife. Paintings of gazelles, birds, and a fish leaping out of the sea line the walls and easels in the yard of his Ra'anana studio. Rosenthal, 53, is no hog for the limelight. As a painting teacher, he decided to display the finished and unfinished works of many of his students as well.
"It is such a great pleasure for me when people admire the work of my students," he says.
Rosenthal was born in Odessa, Ukraine; his parents moved to Israel when he was a toddler. He grew up in the same Ra'anana house that he now uses as a studio, and laughs that people still remember him as a boy nailing his paintings to the walls of the house and distributing flyers around town advertising their sale.
Rosenthal qualified as a graphic designer and still works in this field, but four years ago he began conducting art classes for children and adults and now has a full schedule of morning and evening classes. He takes no more than four people in one class, and aims to have all the members of any one class at a similar standard.
"It started almost without advertising, just by word of mouth," Rosenthal says. He adds that it delights him to see students learning about techniques and use of color and eventually progressing to a point where they can put their ideas on canvas proficiently and confidently.
"I'm always careful not to interfere in the individual style of each student," he says. "But at the same time, something of the teacher always comes through in a student's work. That can't be helped."
An exhibition of works by Rosenthal and his students will be on display at Brichat Tal in Givat Chen this summer.